Press Coverage

Opioid crisis must not be forgotten (Editorial)

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported that confirmed or estimated opioid deaths in the first quarter of 2020 was down 5.7% from the previous year.

Any reduction in numbers is good news, but Gov. Charlie Baker remains cautious. In a statement, Baker said state officials are monitoring “any impact the social isolation practices that are helping us fight the virus may have on the battle against opioid addiction.” The annual number of deaths between 2018-2019 declined only 1 percent.

Some communities such as Lowell, Worcester, Tauton, Gardner and Melrose showed decreases in opioid-related overdose deaths, while significant increases were reported in Somerville, Beverly, Pittsfield, Attleboro and New Bedford.

In a report by State House News Service, the RIZE foundation, a nonprofit that works to combat opioid addictions said it would award $700,000 in grants to local organizations that help provide access to opioid disorder treatment, but RIZE CEO said the pandemic “has made their work more challenging.”

The state has also been working to address the challenge. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, the state has “worked quickly to implement innovative solutions that keep people struggling with substance use connected to the treatment and recovery services they need.”

Amid the pandemic the Department of Public Health has provided more than 13,000 naloxone kits and more than 1,000 survival kits to help reduce the risk of overdose. It is critical that the state and organizations like RIZE keep up the momentum as we are yet unsure the impact of our social behaviors related to coronavirus will have on future opioid-related deaths.

As COVID-19 has taken over most of our attention, we must not take our turn away from the critical need in our communities due to the opioid crisis.